By Matt de Simone
The James River Marching Knights have enjoyed a successful fall season under the leadership of Band Director Kevin English. A portion of that success stems from a gracious donation from The Ramsey Foundation, co-founded by Matthew Ramsey, a James River graduate who is now an award-winning musician fronting one of country music’s most popular bands, Old Dominion.
In 2020, James River High School’s arts programs received a $50,000 donation from The Ramsey Foundation. The James River Marching Knights received a portion of that money and have put it good use.
The Ramsey Foundation provides resources to organizations working in rural communities. They help to meet daily life needs as well as the enrichment of cultural arts seeking to bring awareness to the disparities of cultural arts resources and opportunities in those rural communities.
Band Director Kevin English was eager to put those monies to use, but the COVID-19 pandemic delayed spending temporarily.
“It was a really nice chunk of change to really be able to incorporate it [into the band],” English said in a recent interview. “I had been sitting on this money trying not to use any of it through [the pandemic]. I knew I wanted to use that money obviously to do something great with the band program, but also something that was going to be visually out there for everybody in the community to see.”
English revealed that the band’s been able to use a “good majority” of those funds to purchase much-needed equipment in the band room and also new uniforms for the marchers.
Some of the new equipment includes a flatscreen television in the band room used for instruction and reviewing and analyzing past band performances. The band also purchased a new sound system that includes a mixer, speakers, speaker carts, and a state-of-the-art, mobile power source that acts as a “battery” to run all of the power for their microphones and synthesizers.
“We have new mics and new cables [for competition and performances],” English explained. “The other large expense was buying new performance [uniforms] and hat covers. We started getting everyone fitted for those last year so we would have them in advance [this year]. It’s a vast improvement from what we had before.”
The James River Marching Band enjoyed a successful fall competition season. Their three most recent competitions saw the band receive high marks for their performances and proficiencies.
Last month, the Marching Knights competed in the Glenvar Celtic Classic, placing first in general effect and second overall in Class A. The band’s music score was second out of all the bands in A thru AAA— placing second overall out of the 10 participating bands.
On October 22, James River attended the 25th annual Cavalier Classic at Lord Botetourt High School. The band competed in Class AA and received the second highest music score and second place overall out of the seven bands competing in A and AA.
Then, on October 29, the band competed in the 25th annual William Byrd Blue Ridge Festival, placing first in five individual categories and first overall in Class A competition receiving an overall rating of “Superior.”
The marching band recently finished up with football season. Coming up, the band hosts the winter concert at James River December 13 at 7 p.m. featuring the marching band, concert band, and chamber music. On the first two Saturdays of December, the band will perform in the Buchanan and Fincastle Christmas Parades.
They held their annual spaghetti dinner on Senior Night before the football team’s final home game. English lauded the athletic department’s support during the event.
English and the Marching Knights look forward to their upcoming schedule of performances. Students will soon audition for All-District band, they plan on attending the Virginia Tech Honor Band event in January, and performing during the return of James River’s “Knight of the Arts” in the spring.
“We are very thankful for the Ramsey Foundation for these opportunities,” English added. “The kids knew. They kept seeing new stuff coming in and upgraded things happening. They were so excited. They felt really happy and more excited for the season while seeing all these things come together.”